On January 22, 2021, the editors of Food & Wine magazine issued a rare apology for being culturally inappropriate with a picture of Mole Verde. The editors thought it would make a better photo if they doused the mole in hot sauce and served it with a bowl of lime wedges. Neither of which is culturally correct and both are completely unspeakable in Mexico where the dish originates.
The admission touched off a series of heated debates on food boards across the internet. People from all cultures were pointing out how and where their culture's cuisine got bastardized. Apparently, Food 52 managed to offend every Haitian on the planet with their Haitian rice and beans. It got me thinking about how we are all guilty of this in some form or another. If a dish comes from our own culture then we are more apt to fight to the death to protect its pedigree. But if a dish belongs to another culture then it is fine to alter to fit our personal tastes.
I was born in the US, though both my opinions and mother came from Marseille, the capital of a fiercely independent region deeply rooted in culinary extremism. I come from a long line of battle-hardened foodies that will never admit defeat. Members of my family have stopped talking to one another over a disagreement about the correct fish for an authentic bouillabaisse. When I was younger my uncle almost killed the owner of a prominent winery for merely suggesting that Bordeaux cepes are better than those of Perigord.
Food matters too much in our culture, but then again I have witnessed the same fierce reaction in a friend’s Chinese mother when confronted with a dish at a Chinese-American eatery in Portland. Maybe at the core lies the fact that all of us believe that only our cuisine should be respected while it’s ok that another’s cuisine is subject to any interpretation we see fit.
The other day I myself posted a picture of a shepherd’s pie I made with duck instead of the traditional lamb. Within 3 seconds of hitting post, an English food writer friend admonished me for slandering the good name of shepherd’s pie with my abomination. I pointed out that I only called it shepherd’s pie because most Americans are unfamiliar with the French version, hachis Parmentier. A mini argument ensued and in the end, someone suggested that I rename what I made to be more culturally sensitive. And so duckherd’s pie was born.
Since then I have taken to saying things like ‘I am making a lamb and eggplant dish in the style of moussaka’ to avoid offending anyone. Though admittedly I am still bitter about celebrity chef Ludo Lefebvre starting his bouillabaisse recipe with butter. Mon Dieu!
Duckherd’s Pie (Hachis Parmentier de Canard)
- 1 tablespoon duck fat or unsalted butter
- 1 onion, chopped fine
- 2 ribs of celery, chopped fine
- 2 carrots, chopped fine
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 pound of roast duck (or beef, pork, lamb, chicken, or even fish), chopped fine
- 1 cup duck sauce or stock
- 2 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
To make the duck filling, heat the fat in a large skillet over medium-high heat until smoking, about 2 minutes. Add the onion, celery, and carrots and let cook, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt, herbes de Provence, and the thyme. Add the duck and cook for a few minutes until warmed. If you are using raw meat cook until the meat is fully cooked, about 5 minutes. Add the sauce and let simmer for 3 minutes. Adjust seasoning to your personal tastes.
To make duchess potatoes, peel potatoes and slice thickly. Cook them, covered in simmering salted water until soft but not mushy. Drain well, return to the pan to dry out over low heat.
Put potatoes through a food mill; add half the butter by mixing in with a wooden spoon until the mixture is very smooth. Whisk together eggs and yolks, then beat in gradually to potato mixture. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
For the shepherd’s pie, pipe small mounds of duchess potatoes with a star tip over the entire surface of the shepherd’s pie. Brush with remaining butter melted and bake in a hot oven for 30 minutes, or until lightly brown on top and bubbly.